updated 3/30/2007 4:39:41 PM ET 2007-03-30T20:39:41

A federal jury on Friday awarded $41 million to a Navy officer who as a teenager was repeatedly sexually abused by a Catholic priest.

The jury deliberated for just over two hours before deciding to award Navy Cmdr. Kenneth Whitwell, 39, $6 million in compensatory damages and $35 million in punitive damages.

Whitwell bowed his head and wiped his eyes with his hands as the verdict was read.

Whitwell won a default judgment against the Rev. Edward J. Smith in January after Smith failed to respond to a federal lawsuit.

The case marks the first time that a priest has been found liable in Delaware for child sexual abuse.

Whitwell's attorney, Thomas Neuberger, urged the jury to send a message to Smith, who did not attend Friday's proceedings, that he is not above the law, and that child molesters will be held accountable.

"If you don't enforce the law against the high and the mighty, including religious officials, then no one is protected by the law," he said.

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